Saturday, December 31, 2011

Blessings in 2011

Me and my X-mas necklace and sweater

Don'tae told Naomi that he didn't realize that Shanna's last name was "Noel"

Blessings: We all have our health, a new baby is on the way, Shanna's family has a new house, Naomi had her dream wedding.

There was sadness this year too. Our more than 15 year old pug Spud did not last the year. There were other situations that are so unfair that I get angry and sad when I think of them. But one situation has passed and hopefully the other situation will be resolved.

I did not not travel much this year. I went to Boston twice and Steve and I had a minivacation in Western Michigan last spring. We had the Moms weekend in the Thumb. Next year, I will travel more.

Yesterday I was having lunch again with Josh. He said that his MIL told him that Julia probably inherited a condition in which only female eggs are produced as the MIL only had girls as did all her sisters. He asked me if this could possibly be true. (He really wants a son).
I told him that there are no such thing as 'female eggs' though there are male and female sperm and that maybe this was the MIL's idea of a joke. Note to her: we have the same goal here..don't scare him away!

Happy New Year to all my Dear Readers!

Friday, December 30, 2011

Being paid with gum or maybe with yard waste

Last night, two of my children and their spouses went to the opening conference basketball game UM vs Penn St. UM won; Tim Hardaway Jr. looked especially good and the half-time show consisting of women whose outfits changed in a second was entertaining. (see )With Maya between us, we watched at home. I was trying to get a glimpse of my former co-worker's son, but alas, no playing time for him. The tickets are part of Steve's compensation package for his duties as an election official for the city. The actual pay is quite low so this sort of makes up for it though Steve sees this more as a civic duty. Previous compensation hadcome in the form of a few rounds of golf at the city's greens and my favorite: a few bushels of compost from the city's yard waste  recycling program.

The former company that we both worked at liked to remind us regularly of how we are being compensated beyond the obvious cold, hard cash: health insurance, retirement, life insurance, subsidized cafeteria parking. The last item I thought was stretching things. the company was on the outskirts of town..of course they should provide parking. They might as well listed unlimited access to their waxy non-adsorbant toilet paper and the gallons of various flavors of mouthwash equipped with pumps lined up in every bathroom (the company used to own a well known mouthwash). Also unlisted or maybe it was..I threw out all those silly employee handbooks recently much to Steve's chagrin, was our company store in which we could buy, cheaply, just slightly out-of-date gum, antacids, mouthwash among other things. Also one at one time could purchase a pregnancy test for 25 cents. Such a deal. I used one of these bargains to detect Naomi. I think a positive test was the test strip turning pink. In my case, only one edge turned pink, most of it remained white. Although our control strip (Steve's) was all white, Steve wasn't that convinced my test was positive and I was fresh out of pee to confirm. Later that day a competitor's product purchased at the greatly inflated market price (I had access to medical supply catalogs..I knew how much these things were worth) indicated that I was indeed pregnant.

Another benefit that persists even now in retirement is free, prescription drugs made by the company. Somehow I have always had medical conditions specifically not treated by the company. Now it is true they have acquired the Red Devil but since it is only administered in the hospital, it is not considered a prescription drug.

Free parking. The same bit of land the company owned is now owned by UM. For UM parking lot fees seem to be a money making opportunity for them. The city is covered with various colored lots (the lots have various colors associated with their convenience and the price to have admission to these lots varies). Woe to those who overstay their welcome on University property. The tickets cost 4 times as much as city tickets do. So Steve now works on University property. One of  his few perks is getting a coveted Blue Pass. The only thing better would be a Gold pass. There are also yellow and orange and maybe green ones. I've been told that the Blue is worth $600.

The compensation package now for many chemists is that instead of being paid entirely with cash, one is paid with 'stock options'. These are essentially lottery tickets. It is a good business model in that you will do everything in your power to effect these things actually being worth something and they don't cost the company much. In my former company, you only got these things at a certain grade level (Steve just started to get them) or as  a reward for outstanding performance at my lowly level. The year that I was responsible for producing 10 % of the company's development candidates despite representing only a tenth of a percent of my fellow chemists, I was rewarded with a zillion options. In better years, these could have been parlayed into houses for my whole family but as it turned out, being given a stick of gum would have given me something more  tangible. My brother is paid with these lottery tickets. In his case, he won so miracles do happen.

As for the gum commercial in which I got my title, we did make that gum at one time but it was divested.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Little victories...

Internet fraud: The credit card company reversed the charges posted by the fraudulent photo to canvas company that took my money and ran. The only communication I ever received by this company was that there would be a slight delay in shipping. The same e-mail was sent to about a hundred people, whose addresses all were on the memo sent to me (so much for privacy). Of course mass e-mails have been going back and forth between the fellow victims Anyone get their prints? etc. Only one person ever did and spoke suspiciously glowingly about the service so we are all fairly sure that the bogus company put that one in. On the website, the company claims to be All-American but it is really Danish. Hints that this might be the case: FAQ written in broken, British English.  and also company posting credit charges was in Denmark. Added bonus: foreign transaction fees. Never again will I be suckered into this. I reordered now through Costco. I don't pay until I pick up my stuff. The same company that runs blogger put the bogus company on the top of my internet search. I tried to contact them but written all over the place is that they have no responsibility for fraud. Caveat Emptor indeed!!!

Health Insurance fiasco: The same company (a very big, well known one) that administers our 401K also administers our 'benefits'. Scary as to how incompetent they are. All I wanted was my own health insurance and with a different company than the crappy one we have now. Hours have been spent on the phone haggling what should have been an easy thing. They warn that anything promised on the phone means nothing without written confirmation and for a while, they insisted that I have been sent this confirmation 5 times. Finally they admitted to a computer glitch but said they would send something overnight Fed-Ex confirming my insurance in a different way. Overnight ended up taking 6 whole days (really?I know X-mas was in there..they used a competitor to FedEx..another service never to use). I wasn't too concerned as the insurance cards that I was told I wouldn't get for another whole month arrived in the meantime. But then I got insurance cards for the other company that I am getting rid of...Good news: I am insured Bad news: need to make more phone calls.

One week fight over in a day: Steve and I don't argue often and when we do, it is quite quiet unlike the screaming matches we were both exposed to growing up. But it usually involves me getting the silent treatment for a whole week, rarely is my sentence shortened. It was this week.

Big unexpected bonus for Steve: Steve went back to work this year to cover lots of extra expenses incurred. Even if he were working fulltime, the pay is well less than half than he used to receive. But it is well more than nothing and he can come and go as he pleases. He was told that they got bonuses and he just assumed a few extra hours of pay but it was quite a bit more than that. Still won't put much of a dent into the 'extra expenses'.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Shooting the messenger

More than three years later, I am still angry about the way I was told I had cancer though technically all I was told is that I had something needing biopsying. As soon as I tried to question this radiologist, she would cut me off with a disgusted sigh. She was busy and she didn't have time to deal with my silly questions. I had forgotten her name within seconds of being told but I have since tried to find her by matching photos with names through staff directories. The only contact she has with patients is to tell them that they might have cancer. I wanted to give her some constructive criticism but I think she is gone.

But if I had been told 'nicely', would it of hurt less?

Flashback to when I was thirteen. This is the age when what your peers thought of you meant much more than anything else. My friend is relaying to me that the Queen Bee of our social group doesn't want to hang out with me any more because I am gasp!....boring. As Queen Bee, she had considerable sway and all would follow her though my friend assured me that she didn't think I was boring. I don't remember what I said then..maybe.well F her! I remember how I felt. First I hated the friend that told me this. There was just too much  glee in the delivery. I went home and cried bitter tears. I have no friends! This put me in a black hole for quite a while.

I got out of it eventually.

Over the years, people would relay mean things said about me to me. It didn't have such a devastating impact as when I was thirteen but I usually questioned the motives of the informant. I also vowed never to do this myself. I worked with someone who bitched non-stop about his boss. For the most part, he was just blowing off steam. Finally he decided to leave the company and did. The boss went to me and noted that he knew that we spoke a lot. Did he ever say anything negative about me?

Ah! Sue doesn't play this game! If I dutifully reported all I heard, I would be hated. Nothing will be gained except an enemy. I just told him that he didn't leave because of him. There was a situation that  had nothing to do with him. This was the truth BTW.

Oh but maybe the man could have some 'constructive criticism' and learn? No...not worth it. Not my job.

And just how good am I at receiving 'constructive criticism'?
Short answer: Not good.

Flashback to about ten years ago. I am now a big girl and should be able to deal with all that is dealt. A good friend gingerly tells me that I am probably not aware of this but I really can be condescending sometimes.
Big girl response: You are right. I am not aware of this. Can you provide me with some specific examples so I know not to do this in the future?

Sue's response: Immediately burst into tears and walk away. Issue never discussed again.

So am I condescending or not? Don't answer that..

I got part of the answer a few years later. I was with a good friend who happens to know many languages among them French. In the middle of a conversation, he mispronounces   soup├žon  . All I said was that the cedilla was there for a reason but he had a hissyfit. I had hurt his pride and I was a show off.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Just 86 days 'til spring...

Above are some paintings of Josh's mother-in-law. Their house is full of these. The bottom two pictures are of her two children: Julia is the middle picture. She also makes jewelry. One of my X-mas presents this year is a necklace made up of polished white stones that the MIL made.. Marble? I will post a picture of it at some point. I do like it a lot.

Ah the doldrums of winter! It is snowing out now. I try to run when the pavement is dry, which has been the case for the past 4 days. Steve is back at work; my baby sitting duties are temporarily suspended. I do have plenty of projects to keep me busy but here I sit..

Today is my sister-in-law's birthday. Last year we surprised her in Seattle for a birthday that was divisible by 10. Here is her and her husband at the wedding:
Right above is a picture of her after graduating from kindergarten. I have pictures of Shanna that look so much like her. See below though Shanna is just 4 here.

Monday, December 26, 2011

False friends and palindromes

For the holidays, a friend gave me a few months of saved up NYT Sunday magazines. Happy days for this one as I love the puzzles (along with the rest of the magazine). One of them featured palindromes.

Clue: Medusa's slayer takes agent to court 
Answer: Perseus sues rep

Clue: Students err
Answer: Pupils slip up

Clue: Disparaging Argentine leader badly injured?
Answer: Derogative Evita gored

There were others but I just included my favorites. I am fascinated with how the puzzle makers come up with these things. A neighbor, who also is a math teacher and who also coached soccer with me, makes crossword puzzles. His puzzles so far have been NYT dailies. I am not sure if he has had a "Sunday" puzzle yet.

 I've been trying to come up with my own palindromes.

Clue: Sue laments last born child
Answer: Naomi I moan!

OK, that wasn't original. Some classmate of Naomi's pointed that out to her back in middle school (though not the clue). Coming up with ones for Josh and Shanna are  difficult. I tried something with Sue and issues and nada. With Steve, there is hope.

Clue: Sue's husband apes animal doctors.
Answer: Steve mime vets.

Well it isn't easy.

And then there was a puzzle on False Friends entitled Polyglot. False friends ( I can't believe there isn't a better term; I was thinking that the term was false cognates but it isn't) are words that look the same in different languages but mean something very different. The languages featured were French, Spanish, Italian and German, which meshed perfectly with my toddler's expertise in those four languages though my German vocabulary consists of chemical terms which toddlers probably don't use such as ameisesaure (formic acid) and harnstoff (urea)

The clues were: alter, arenas, due, mar, tout, court, pane and rot.

I've been collecting false friends for a while. We used to visit Montreal in the winter to see my step-Grandmother. There was a park that featured Ski du fond (cross country skiing) that we would go to that had a brochure all in French. It discussed a class that looked to my slightly trained eyes like the teaching of the fine art of farting on skis.

 Farter = to wax

And false friends go both ways. Aimez vous les 'pets'?

pet = fart

At work, some of our chemicals came from Germany with the following warning:

Achtung! Gift!

They weren't warning that the substance was a gift (we probably paid plenty for it) but Poison.

Which leads to a false false friend: Poisson. This was my first one learned in junior high. To my 13 year old fish hating self, I thought, they named that right. (Tu as raison!) (That does not mean you have raisens)
Flash forward a zillion years to the near present. The name of the priest that we share a bequest with translates to Father Fish (I hope this does not google). According to my step-granddmother's will, inconveniently written in Quebecois legalese and saved as an image file so google translaters will not work, much money is reserved for Father Fish to give 'messes' (I love that False Friend alot..means masses) in order to save my grandfather's soul. I could think of better uses for said money.

And why does my grandfather need saving? He died a non-Catholic. Although they were married in a Catholic church, my grandfather did not convert. He had his own church though not in the literal sense that Josh's grandfather-in-law (!?! really, C'est vrai!) has but he attended  a main stream Protestant one. At my step-grandmother's request, Father Fish had conducted an unsuccessful exorcism of the demon that was thought to inhabit her roommate. God knows how much that cost! And was there a refund when it was unsuccessful?

I did meet Father Fish at her funeral. He spoke a mile a minute in Quebecois to us, much harder to understand than the Parisian French we learned in school.

In my mind, all I could think of was poison.

For X-mas, we went to brunch at Josh and Julia's with Naomi and her family. It was very nice. Maya enjoyed her gifts (not poisons). It is pure happiness to see her delight.

Sunday, December 25, 2011



Ours is a mixed household....
Rudolph's half- Jewish brother Reuben

A buche de Noel from 5 years ago. Every year I make a buche..not this year
X-mas hosts

Maya redoing Julia's hair

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Presence versus presents

Josh at 16 or 17 months
Yesterday at lunch I sit across from my handsome son at a new restaurant in his village (which soon might morph to a city). In my mind's eye, he is a smiling toddler in Steve's arms throwing me one last kiss before going to bed. He went to bed willingly but only if it was after 10 pm. He had an internal clock that could not be fooled. It would be hard to reproduce that scene as he outweighs Steve by at least 30 pounds. The blond hair has morphed to brown. If his wife wasn't so diligent about cutting it, it would be a mass of curls. If it were up to me, that is what he would have but it isn't up to me.

 This week my grandson lost all his curls.

I have Josh to myself because his wife is working while he is on vacation. Next week he will be entertaining his in-laws. He warns me that the present that they are giving the in-laws might be considered more elaborate than the ones they are getting us and we are not to compare or be insulted. Of course I would not have known this if he hadn't told me and I certainly would not have asked. Also I don't care. What can they give us that we can't give ourselves? His presence. They are here and not outside of DC where the in-laws are. The in-laws would dearly love to come back and have tried. Eventually they will be back. But I love that I can see him so often and that we get along so well.

Yeah, there is something else they can give us and I can't help myself from asking about that (the in-laws probably ask way more than I do). I am appeased but I know it is probably just an appeasement.


Updates: After all that kvetching, I got my health insurance card for next year.
Also: Ms. Naomi is featured on the homepage of her school Washtenaw Community college.

A chain of guinea pigs

It was determined in Switzerland that guinea pigs are social creatures and that it would be cruel to have just one. A law was passed. I am not sure how it is to be enforced or what the penalty is for non-compliance but no matter, apparently the Swiss are law-abiding citizens that will police themselves. But it does raise a question? You buy the mandatory two guinea pigs and then one dies before the other. You are legally obligated to replace the deceased. a few months go by and the original guinea pig you must buy a companion for the companion. On and on: a never ending obligation unless death strikes your guinea pigs  simultaneously (woe to those who might engineer that).

Until now. An enterprising person will rent your pet a companion for $30 or so. When the companion is no longer needed, you return it.

Or the Swiss can stick to hamsters. They are definitely not social creatures, are smaller, have shorter lives and I think cuter. See hamster husbandry blog.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Because the computer tells me so..

For the past 3 months, I have been having a battle with the benefits department of my former company or at least with the people who they have outsourced to handle these things. I wanted to have my own health insurance instead of being a dependent of Steve's. What a struggle! I asked for written confirmation that I elected such and such insurance. E-mails were not an option with this company. On their recordings, they warn nothing is binding orally so I needed to have this in print. No problem! as I've been told five (5!!!!) times, we'll send that out to you. You should receive it in 7- 10 business days. (they must have especially slow snail mail). I record the names and dates of the conversations. I give them 3 weeks and repeat phone call. Each time they insist the computer says I am insured and I was sent a confirmation on such and such a date. Yesterday I called again to complain. They said the computer says I was sent 4 notices...I should go to the post office and see why I don't get my mail. Yes they have the correct address. Now it is true that some of the mail carriers give us the neighbor's mail and I can assume they get ours. As they are annoying former frat boys, they couldn't be troubled to redirect the mail (they noisily come and go in the middle of the night with their thumping sound systems..they get several newspapers a day but can't be troubled to pick them off their driveway so it is covered in newspaper smush) but all four notices? I ask to speak to the supervisor as this is getting absurd. She repeats that I am covered and if it will make me happy, they will send out a fifth confirmation. I ask if the insurance company could send me my cards as they have already with Steve's. Well they will but it won't be until the end of January. What happens if I get sick? Well in January you can call them and they will give you the plan number but not before then.

Finally late yesterday I get a phone call. They decided to investigate my complaint (could I have been the only one with this problem? I think not). Although the computer says all these notices were sent, they finally figured out that meant nothing. And I can't get a confirmation by their stupid rules. What they will do is send me an invoice for my first month's insurance. This will prove I have insurance (maybe). She said I would get this in 7-10 business days. Why does this take so long? Oh do you want it sooner? Should I put it in express mail? Yes!!!
So if I don't get this by 3 pm Tuesday (delayed by the holidays), I have a specific person to hound.

I am quite jaded now. I am still annoyed that I sent money via credit card to a black hole that seemed to be a service for printing photos on canvas. I should have been suspicious of its prices being half of the other sites. Too late I read it is a scam. The credit card company was billed instantly. The credit card company launched an investigation. I had to mail them all sorts of stuff. Hopefully these crooks won't get away with this. And a bonus..they have the credit card number and security code.

Bizarre internet search results as read from my stat counter:

Nude blond boy: Result, a picture of of  seven year old Josh racing down a hill in Washington State. No he wasn't nude but it gives me the creeps that some pederast got on my site and downloaded that picture.

Biracial Downs' Syndrome baby: Result, a picture of 9 month Maya holding a doll. OK, she is biracial (or quadracial depending how you figure it) And she has no signs of having Downs'. It is not even clear that she is biracial from the picture or in person. The school system filled out a report on her as she is receiving services for her delays. They took it upon themselves to classify her as 'Caucasian' as they have only seen Naomi and I. But in the real world, one drop of black equals black. Take Obama for instance: time spent with his black relatives? Close to zero. Despite his white mom, he is considered black.
A search for cute biracial baby resulted in the same picture. This doesn't distress me so much but I have posted much cuter pictures of her.

These are not the main search results: Now the Chia Obama is replacing the Edelweiss replacing the hummingbird imposter replacing the donkey stew. As this is a cancer blog (sort of as I am usually off topic), the number one cancer query result is the color of a tumor.

Amusing internet search of my friend. She is an instructor and assigned a term paper to her charges. One of her low performing students produced a paper filled with phrasing quite unlike her. My friend typed in three words into a search engine and retrieved the entire paper. The student's response? She was just using that paper as a source (uncited) and accidentally sent it in instead. Can she send in her 'real' paper?

Steve got his hearing aid yesterday. Already one isn't working though maybe it is a battery issue.

It doesn't look like X-mas at all but for that, I am happy.

Thursday, December 22, 2011


No Evidence of Disease: the best news that a cancer patient can receive. This sadly does not mean'cancer-free' as some interpret it as in the doctor removed the entire tumor, I am now cancer free. There can always be a few cells lurking around ready to sprout into new tumors. No doctor can really ever say You are cancer-free.

I had been following the progress of a young couple who has a baby just a few weeks younger than Daniel. Last winter within weeks, both received news that one of them had stage 3 rectal cancer and the other had stage 4 breast cancer. As treatments for both would be grueling, they would not be able to take care of each other much less the baby. The woman's cancer had spread to her liver and brain. How unfair is that? I turned on the TV the other day and there they were. The woman's brain and liver mets had disappeared through treatment, totally unexpected, and she was pronounced NED, a X-mas miracle. She is well aware that she isn't 'cured' but at least she will have some time of being symptom free and she does have hope that the NED status could last.

On the same day, I read the obit of a daughter and sister of two women who attended my cancer survivor cooking class She too had been declared NED at one point. She had been in a clinical trial that testing circulating cancer cells in the blood. The thinking was that tumors are always shedding cells that will find their ways into the blood. They had just developed a way to detect these. If no cells could be found, then there was a good chance there was no cancer anywhere. Lots of rejoicing when she was told a year ago that this was the case. But she died last week.

Later on this same day, I went to dinner with friends, one of whom is a survivor of two Stage 3 cancers that are totally unrelated. One is a carcinoma and the other is a sarcoma. They found the carcinoma while investigating the possible sarcoma. How crappy is that? This news came at the same time that we were losing our jobs. Another cancer factoid is that staging various cancers are not equivalent. A stage 4 diagnosis in one cancer can mean almost certain death and in another, beatable with about a 60% chance. My friend's cancers are not equal despite both being designated stage 3. The carcinoma is much more serious yet it has been almost 5 years since he was told the improbable news so he is probably 'safe' from that. The sarcoma is very slow growing. Its treatment was unbelievably brutal but on the whole much more survivable.

Today is the shortest day of the year. As I crave sun, it is not a day I look forward to. The upside is that now all the days will become longer. Also it is unseasonably warm. I will be out there once I figure that I get a temporary reprieve in my babysitting duties. I have had Ms. Maya with me a good portion of the week as Naomi was working all night and needed to sleep during the day. Last night was her last night.
On one of the days, Josh was with me. He is quite fond of Maya. He is alarmed that Maya is not making much progress with verbal communication (though she is signing more). He decided that he was going to help 'fix' her. Ironies of ironies. My number one concern at one time  was his lack of communication when he was under 5. Now so-called experts have been assigned to her case. I took her to the speech pathologist yesterday. They can just increase her signing.

She is a happy, cute little person. I do have fun with her though it does get tiring chasing her everywhere.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Party Hearty

Charlotte before removing side of springform pan. Note to self: Have lady fingers facing the other way so they will lie flat

Brie en croute avec les figues

Festive table

After removing sides. Charlotte not as firm as I would have liked. Need to increase gelatin by 50%
Last night, for the 31st time, we Moms got together for our annual gathering and gift exchange. Very fun. Aside from my enormous brie, we have cocktail shrimp and crudities for appetizers; a wonderful salad, shrimp scampi with rice noodles; a roasted sweet potato and pineapple dish, a cranberry and carrot salad and lots of wine.

And today I met with the neighborhood moms. The former little boys are now becoming fathers, at least some of them. Hard to imagine as the picture I have of some of these boys are of 8 year olds. For the past three years, we have slogged through knee deep snow to get to our hostess's house but today temps were in the 50s.

Naomi passed her state examination to become licensed so hopefully this will lead to a job. As it gets closer to X-mas, her hours in her temporary job are longer and longer. Tough when she had a test first thing in the morning. Don'tae brought Ms. Maya over early before he left for work. I will have her most of this week. I let her play with some of her X-mas gifts early. Steve is working longer hours too. Josh will keep me company tomorrow.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Dancing Maya

Over the next three days, I have three holiday events. Busy times for this one. Not going to work or having a child in sports really cuts down on the activities compared to my past life.

Tonight is our annual Moms party. My Charlotte Russe is gelling in the refrigerator. One was supposed to line the pan with lady fingers ahead of time but they kept falling down. I will make an appetizer out of brie, crescent rolls and fig butter.

Tomorrow it's The Mothers of Boys Somewhat Annual Tea. This is leftover from when the neighborhood boys were on a baseball team and the moms would go out for drinks after the game. Maybe they started playing together when they were 8? Some of the boys already turned 30. Josh will in a few months. Josh is still friends with most of the boys scattered to the wind as they may be though the son of the hosting mom just moved to his village.

Tuesday it's dinner with some ex-co-workers. We get together twice a year as a small group and I meet with one of them, my birthday buddy, another 2 times a year.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Charlotte Russe

Instead of making a Buche de Noel, tomorrow I will make a Charlotte Russe for the Moms.
Below are photos of the last few days:
From school X-mas party

Decorate your own sugar cookie

Anniversary flowers

Gift bags

Another one

Cheapie Maya ornament

Vaccine against Breast Cancer?

This week in Newsweek there was a story about a stage 4 breast cancer patient who didn't want to die (as if every other patient  wants to) and enrolled in an experimental vaccine program targeting the her2/neu 5 years ago. She is still alive and furthermore, is NED.(no sign of disease). I can see that there is much interest in developing vaccines but they for the most part seem to be testing in mice. A few years ago, I noticed there was a clinical trial involving TNBC patients with a vaccine that would target Mucin, a protein that TNBC seems to have (along with other cancers). No word on how that turned out. I assume if the results were good, there would be shouting from the rooftops.

What the article did not say is what happened to the other patients in the trial. Did they have their own miracles? An internet search turned up nada.

So a vaccine would be great but cancer is not a single disease. Many vaccines would need to be developed. So far there is one vaccine on the market,  against prostrate cancer. The vaccine that targets the virus that causes cervical cancer also is on the market.

I am feeling cynical right now. I had ordered 3 weeks ago some photos printed on canvas for X-mas presents. I immediately was told that shipping would be delayed a week. Still no shipping. The phone line is constantly busy and e-mails are not returned. Meanwhile I found this site is on the scam list. I guess my next recourse is to have the credit card company cut them off. So if you search for canvas prints, their website will be your  top hit (and they have two different names). Do not use these crooks.

Friday, December 16, 2011


No, not the cute furry animals but an acronym for Pediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Disorders Associated with Strep. I read about this contraversial disorder this week in the science edition of the WSJ.
A child has strep throat and is not immediately treated with antibiotics. The body produces antibodies that kill the strep but for some reason inflame part of the brain releasing excess dopamine. Overnight the child develops OCD. There have been cases of three year olds suddenly wanting to wash their hands repeatedly. Presumably if  this child is then treated with antibiotics, the compulsions will go away. This does not make sense to me as although the antibiotics treat the infection, I can't imagine how this will impact the antibody count. Rheumatic fever, now rare, is thought to be caused by these same antibodies attacking the heart valve. But if the premise that antibiotics do help rid the antibodies, it is certainly an easier fix than giving a child potent psychiatric medications.

Is hearing a medical necessity or some extravagance like extra white teeth or firm large breasts? Trying to get our pitiful insurance to cover a hearing aid or even part of one is a frustrating experience. The claims department is staffed by Peggy clones (the Slavic accented man manning the mythical credit card rewards program from some hut in Siberia in the commercials). They have one hearing aid provider. The price this place quotes is about twice that of Costco. They (crappy insurance company)theoretically will reimburse 50% of the cost only if we use the provider. The provider says they really do not want to deal with our insurance company so why have a contract with them? Argh! Steve gives up and just will go to Costco and not have to spend hours cajoling these Peggys over the phone. He has been mulling it over whether he really wants to hear.

Thursday, December 15, 2011


Recently I was watching a YouTube video going around entitled Dear 16 year old self in which melanoma patients now in their 20s and 30s rue the behaviors they had as 16 teen year olds that put them at risk for melanoma, tanning beds, laying out in the sun for hours, etc. One young man started off If being a Ginger wasn't bad enough.... He had an American accent. Having several British bosses, I became familiar with their terms. One described Naomi to his own daughter as a ginger. Now ginger to me seems to be yellowish brown, not orangish red. When people came up to Naomi when she was very young and told her that she was a red head, she would correct them and say that her hair was orange. It has darkened into red as she grew older.
Anyway, in England, there seems to be extra hostility against redheads: they call it gingerism.

Ginger is one of my favorite spices. In Asian restaurants, I always opt for ginger ice cream. We had a holiday party today in Maya's class. I did not have time to make anything special. I brought some ginger biscotti and some decorating icings and sprinkles. Some lady made really cute gingerbread men. The teacher brought homemade sugar snowflakes to decorate so all my sprinkles came in handy. Maya's favorite part of the class was getting bells to ring while they sang Jingle Bells. She didn't want to give them back. This class had mainly older kids in it. For next semester, we signed her up for a class just for her age group that is on this side of town instead of the opposite.

Naomi has been working 10 hour shifts all night so I have had Maya a lot. Running after a baby all day is hard.

It was 57 degrees at one point today but the cold front is coming in heralded by a stiff wind. I waited impatiently for Steve to relieve me of my babysitting so I could get some exercise.  It is the middle of December and I was out in shorts. A bit tough going into the wind.

Yesterday we made 'healthy' holiday treats in our cooking for survival class. As there was a lot of slicing and dicing that was needed, I spent the whole time doing that. Strangest dish: mock chopped liver. This was made from lentils, roasted green beans, walnuts, onions and garlic. It actually did taste like liver but it was good. We also made a tasty eggplant dip. The desserts were brownies in which much of the fat was replaced by applesauce, not bad, and date bars, which I haven't had since childhood. 

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

My wedding

No fancy wedding for wedding dress was a prom dress; I catered the wedding myself; I had no attendants; there was no aisle to walk down; no one gave me away (though I never would have agreed to this).  I made table decorations consisting of floating candles. Red water with a thin layer of oil on top that fed a wick in plastic glasses. They looked as terrible as they sound. At the last minute, my step-grandmother provided a cake and real dishes (versus paper plates). She helped me get the dinner ready the whole time grousing how awful my father was (her step-son who was only a few years younger than her). She was angry that he didn't pay for the cake or dishes.

We went to Florida on our honeymoon trying to camp on the Keys in winter. We had a small 2 person tent that needed to be staked. However the ground was made up of coral. We were there in a windstorm. To keep the tent from blowing away, we needed to weigh down the inside with big pieces of coral, big because coral is so light. There wasn't much room left for us. Later on the honeymoon, we got in the worst fight of our marriage. He deserted me in the middle of Tampa. I thought he had left for good.

Naomi wants a honeymoon now. I said I would help pay half of it. She was incredulous that she would have to pay the other half.

Steve came home late yesterday to celebrate our 34th anniversary. I have beautiful flowers and a nice gift. We were both too tired for a night on the town.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011


The above are drawings of one of my nieces. She is quite talented.
I think that is a self-portrait to the right of the bottom picture.

Today I awoke to the very loud screeching sound of a rooster about an hour before I usually get up. Steve is not here though usually being by myself doesn't freak me out. Was my house being invaded by aliens? Groggily I got up and went to the next room where the rooster sound was escalating. Was my computer doing this? Next to the computer was a flashing smart phone, not mine. I am one of the few people around here without one. I hit the screen..wrong move. In five minutes the cacophony began anew. There seemed no way to turn this thing off..I could just make it snooze. After a few more cycles, I started messing around with the phone's settings turning the sound off, I thought. 5 minutes later, more racket. I finally figured out how to turn that alarm off...a half hour later.

I needed to be up by that time anyway as Naomi's shifts are getting longer and longer and I might be needed to watch Maya so her husband can go to work.

It is Steve's and my anniversary today and he is gone. The project he is working on has run into some hitches. Maybe he'll be back tonight...

Last night a friend (the phone owner) and I were planning a cruise for early February. As years go by, winter drags on me more and more and I look forward to some sun and warmth. So we will be hitting the Turks, Bahamas, Puerto Rico and St. Maartens; all but one being new to me. I will be hoping Shanna junior will stay in utero while I am gone. She will be at 34 weeks when I return. By dates, Daniel came at 36 weeks but his immature lungs indicated that maybe he was only 34 weeks. (His size, close to 8 lbs, indicated an almost full term boy, the world's biggest preemie).

Technically it is not even winter yet. Yesterday it was a balmy 42 degrees and it might be warmer today.

Monday, December 12, 2011

A gift for Steve?

Tomorrow is our 34th anniversary. What to give? Last night I saw an advertisment for a Chia Obama. It comes in two models: smiling Obama and serious Obama. (smiling is pictured) I'm sure Steve would love it. (Does sarcasm travel through the internet?) He is on the western coast of the state for work. At one point, it was going to be a multiday assignment and I was going with him but that changed.

Aside from giving Obama that green 'fro, chia seeds are considered 'super foods'.

I am devoting at least part of today to decluttering. I made a little progress last week. Do we need copies of employee handbooks for a company that doesn't exist? Do we need baseball registers for the past 30 years? Do we need 20 years of financial reports? Well those handbooks are now gone but I think our marriage won't make it to year 35 if those baseball books go missing.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Maya in her cat hat

Cursing through pain

Imagine this: you are walking barefooted through your house and run toe-first into a table leg. Response?


Does this help?

According to recent research reported in the Journal of Pain, probably. The length of time undergraduates could tolerate having their hands submerged in ice water  increased significantly when they were told to swear throughout their ordeal. Proposed mechanism of action? The swearing activated the fight or flight response which in turn released endogenous opioids. But there was a problem of tolerance. Students who reported swearing as part of their  every day lexicon had much less of an effect.

So imagine a child experiencing the same situation as above. What would be their response?

Usually crying until the pain passed.

Steve and I always wondered at what age does the response to acute pain morph from crying to swearing. Adults rarely cry in response to pain. Scream maybe. I remember my experience giving birth to Shanna during a time in which LaMaze training strongly suggested that you were a bad mom if you asked for pain killers. During the moments I wasn't focused on my own misery, I was very aware of the screams of my fellow laborers. Was I in a torture chamber? I heard no crying. This screaming seems to be a thing of the past. I've been on labor wings at least 6 times since then with my own children's  births and while coaching my grandchildren and nieces' births.

Josh has played soccer since he was 6. He and his fellow players have had plenty of opportunity to experience pain. There are strong prohibitions against boys crying that increase as they age: from both the soccer dads whispering Man Up!! and the teammates and opponents disdain for crybabies. Below ten, crying was an accepted response. After 14, no one dared cry though a teammate at that age had a compound arm fracture (bone could be seen penetrating the skin) and there was some crying but the accident was so horrific that no one dare criticize the response. Around the same time, the boys' response to pain morphed into wreaking revenge on whomever they thought responsible. The older they got, closer to 19, the more bent on revenge. I called this testosterone poisoning. Now that they are adults, they are much more able to control their impulses though not all the time.

We have been dog sitting Sunny. She was very unhappy about it and whined and moaned for about an hour straight. Her voice sometimes sounds human. At night she paced so not much sleep for us. Her owners should pick her up any minute.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Golfer's vasculitis

During the summer I was in Italy, on three separate occasions I developed these angry purplish-red plaques on my legs after spending a day walking for hours in the heat. They did not itch or were painful. They were very ugly and it was so warm there, I could not conceal them by wearing long pants. They faded after one or two days the first two times I had them but after spending 8 hours walking in Rome in nearly 100 degree heat, the plaques lasted for almost a week. I wish I took pictures.

I was puzzled about the cause. I have had prickly heat before but it looked different, it itched, and usually was on my arms. I thought maybe I had walked in poison ivy as it likes to grow in blackberry patches which I certainly went through on my cross country jaunts. But this stuff didn't itch and it was confined to my legs. Many of my fellow students complained about weird insect bites. Small transparent things that would attack at night. One girl had a severe allergic reaction to them and could barely see. My roommates would douse their bodies with insecticide but I never seemed to be bitten. Others had plug-in bug killing spray. I really did not want to be exposed to that. The only bugs that bothered me were the flies. Fortunately they only were around in the daylight. They would get me up in the morning for my just after dawn runs. I also considered contact dermatitis. Maybe something was leaching out of my shoes? But my feet had no lesions on them nor were my legs scratchy or swollen.

Once I returned home, I matched up my lesions on the Internet with those of 'vasculitis'. Reading about it in my Merck Manual, it is defined by the inflammation of blood vessels. However the causes listed are all very dire. I was fairly healthy, excepting for the cancer brewing unbeknownst to me just below the surface. I was just recovering from hypothyroidism due to the many calcium antacids I was gobbling interfering with my synthroid. I had been taking high doses of ibuprofen to deal with the arm pain from breaking it. That shredded my stomach lining.  The hypothyroidism made me especially puffy and running very difficult but as I recovered, running was becoming easier even in the mountains. I never had had circulatory problems or even varicose veins so I was puzzled by how easily my blood vessels became inflamed.

It turns out that this condition is very common and not  serious. By the time most patients can schedule a visit with a dermatologist, it disappears. Or they go through extensive allergy testing  with no clear cause. Only recently it has been described as 'golfer's vasculitis' due to it occurring in older golfers. Another term for it, is Three Day Walker's vasculitis as many women walking for the cure show up at the medical tent with it. Yet another term for it is "Disney World" Rash as it appears on people unused to heat and walking for hours and they assume it's due to some allergic reaction to the surroundings.

As I was trolling the internet looking for a photo that a fellow student took that I was in showing my ugly rash (which I finally found, see below), I came across this video that another student took of our experience.

After our Rome trip, others in our group had less severe cases of it so it wasn't just me. I have run marathons and never have seen this on my legs nor has it occurred since.

This is almost a week since I got the lesions still visible on one of my calves

It is so pretty outside but so cold. Cold doesn't bother me but the resultant ice does. I finally was able to go out yesterday after accepting that it would never be above freezing. I felt fine.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Hamster Husbandry

Some of my pet hamsters from earlier days. Usually they were the mostly dark brown kind  as pictured above versus the cream pictured here.

For a ninth grade biology project, I found it necessary to obtain hamster babies of the same litter in order to eliminate one variable. I decided to raise this litter myself from a male and female purchased. I named them Male and Female with the  not-so-cleverly pronounced  accent on the last e.

Hamster factoid: Hamsters are solitary animals. Pairs should not be raised together. They will fight to the death to have sole possession of the space. Winner of the Female vs Male battle? Female. By a whole lot.

It was necessary to start over with a new male. Female meanwhile had grown into an adult. As time was a wastin', I needed to find an adult male, a not easy task. Eventually I located Male the Second, a fine animal weighing 350 grams to Female's 225 grams. Both were larger than average.

Hamster factoid: There is sexual dimorphism among hamsters. Males are generally 50% larger than females. They are easily identified by their oversized testicle sack.

Hamster factoid: The female comes into estrus once every 4 days.

What the hamster book didn't tell me was how long this estrus period lasted. All day or just for a few minutes? Also I could not tell just by looking at her whether this estrus was occurring. (Dogs and cats; very easy) I had to go by her behavior. If she was in the mood (very rare), she would let Male the Second approach her without her orange teeth bared. If she was not (almost all of the time), she would proceed to kill Male. Male, for his part, was a sex machine with only one thing on his mind. Even when his face was being chewed, he didn't abandon his sole aim. He made no attempt to defend himself even though he was much larger. Female was a very sweet hamster to humans as evidenced by never biting the hand that fed her. To other hamsters, not so much. Finally after a week or so of gingerly introducing her with gloved hands so I could reach in and save Male without losing my fingers, she submitted. The hamster book gave no indication on how long the sex act lasted. I was too afraid to give them the privacy they probably didn't need as the moment could pass for Female and she would be back in killing mode. They coupled repeatedly for over an hour.

Hamster factoid: The gestation period for hamsters is the shortest of any mammal: 16 days.

16 days had passed and no sign of hamster babies. I had looked for signs during this period and found none. Female had retained her girlish figure. I went back to introducing Male carefully waiting impatiently for the magic to begin. It took a long time. Finally she submitted to a 2 hour  frenzy bumping hamster uglies. I would not be fooled again and introduced her a few more times in the next 2 weeks and to my dismay, she still behaved if she were in estrus which led me to believe, she was NOT pregnant.

But she was. On day 16, she delivered 8 totally bald, blind pink babies of greatly varying sizes. So much for the invariability of siblings.( Later when I practiced 'human husbandry', I ended up with 3 very different progeny in terms of skill sets, temperaments, and appearances). Initially I thought my project was off to a good start (though delayed by all of the above) but each day that went by, I was finding fewer and fewer babies. Apparently Female didn't limit her rage to her sex partners. Sometimes I would just find half a body. To her credit, she ate the smallest babies. Maybe they had died before being consumed. I was down to four babies. I forgot what the minimum nursing period is for hamsters but I know I cut it short a couple days for fear that she ate them for fun. They survived their abrupt weaning though one escaped, dangerous as I had a cat who had displayed too much interest in them. She didn't kill it; a mattress spring was inadvertently dropped on it when trying to capture it. I needed more hamsters. Even though it was a flaw in my first thinking, I bought 2 outsiders.

The experiment itself was stupid. The title was the Effect of Diet on Hamster's Learning and Growth. Their ability to learn was measured by the time it took them to master a maze I elaborately constructed from Masonite. The two diets were plain sunflower seeds versus a diet supplemented by vegetables. Growth was according to weight gain on a very good pan  balance the school lent me. One major fly in the ointment was they were not motivated to run the maze unless they were hungry. If I had just let them run it a few times, then they would not have been so hungry. This impacted their growth. The vegetable group did gain more weight and learned the mazes faster, marginally. I typed up all my experiences, did an elaborate error analysis, etc. I did get an A plus. At the end, I had 8 hamsters. Male the second was a borrowed hamster. My teacher offered to find 'good homes' for the rest. I didn't question him too closely on this. I kept Female and the surviving runt of the litter as I was afraid that his smallness might impact his chances of finding a home.

Snow, snow go away. At this time of year, I can't waste 'good days' such as yesterday which was sunny and dry. I am hoping that there might be some ice free pavement later.

Thursday, December 8, 2011


This is me at 4 or so

Ren cen (in Detroit)
I have boxes and boxes of transparencies that various agencies have sent back to me. These were all taken by my father who had a side line of supplying stock photography agencies  with his photos. Some photos would fetch a few grand a piece but digital photography has made all his photos obsolete. Any rate I haven't looked at them much but today I got the brilliant idea of using my computer screen as a light box and started looking through them. I found this picture of me. My scanner isn't the best method of copying these pictures but oh well...

I spent most of the day with Ms. Maya taking her to her class while Naomi recovered from her night job. While Maya napped, I spent a frustrating hour trying to adjust the straps of her car seat so they would fit better. I tried to find a manual on line to no avail.

It would have been a nice day for a run but...I had company.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The quince blossom in winter

My poor confused quince has set out several blossoms. In the spring, the bush is covered with bright red blossoms that turn into small yellow quinces. Alas they are just ornamental but smell like oranges.


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